“We haven’t brought you here for Cantonese eating 101,” she said. “This is more like 301.”
And thus began my experience with Stacey at Lido, a Hong Kong-style café near Aberdeen Mall. If you want to experience authentic Hong Kong food and service without leaving BC, this is the place to go.
Authentic doesn’t always mean easy. If you’re a caucasian girl who’s never travelled to Asia, the prospect can be intimidating. That’s why I, the guinea pig for the Lido un-initiated, was joined by my new friend Stacey; she’s originally from Taiwan, has lived in Richmond for over 20 years, and knows her food. She came along to help me figure out what I was doing.
With this post, I’m hoping to offer a few pointers for other amateurs willing to try Lido for themselves – you CAN do it! Think of it as you would bungee jumping; it may be scary, but it’s also fun, adventurous, and there’s probably less than a 1% chance you’ll actually get hurt. There are a few pieces of equipment you’ll need, so think of this post as your harness and rope. I promise to strap your ankles in tight.
I was fortunate to have Stacey as my guide, and anything I tell you here is a result of her extensive knowledge. So first off, THANK YOU STACEY.
Here’s how it works; Lido is a busy, bare-bones café in a strip mall, and you’ll want to dine there during off-peak hours. If you’ve never been, don’t attempt to go at noon. Instead, saunter in around 2:00pm, when there’s plenty of free space and the servers aren’t worried about turning tables over so quickly.
The service, by the way, is quick and to the point; don’t be hesitant to wave down a server if you need something. In fact, you probably won’t get much of anything unless you do. You’re not being rude, you’re just helping them know what you need.
While there’s some English scattered around Lido, the main language is Cantonese. If you’re an avid traveller who hasn’t been abroad in awhile, stop by Lido to exercise your sign-language skills and comprehension of strongly-accented English. One of the best (and hardest) parts of travelling can be communicating, and this will throw you directly back to your backpacking years.
Once you’ve arrived and are waiting to be seated, you have one important task – turn to your left and LOOK FOR THE PINEAPPLE BUNS. They sit on a rack just inside the entrance, and they’re what Lido is famous for.
Baked fresh throughout the day, these buns are so popular they can sell out before you’ve had the chance to say “pine.” Ask for them as soon as you sit down, and if there are none on the rack, ask if more are coming. Also, make SURE to ask for them with butter. Why? Because there are few opportunities in life when you get to enjoy a brioche-like bun topped with sugary baked custard that’s cut open and stuffed with a thick slab of salted, melting goodness.
It makes for a warm, sweet, butter sandwich (there’s no pineapple in pineapple buns, they’re named for their scored yellow tops), and really, WHO wouldn’t want a butter sandwich? If you only go to Lido for one thing, make it this.
When it comes to savoury food, I’d suggest ordering off the “Chinese tea-set” menu with English translations. You’ll order a combo that includes one kind of soup, a main dish, and a drink. If you have 3 or 4 people in your group, order several of these combos and share it family-style. The mashing of east and west is the key element of a Hong Kong style café, so there’ll be everything from traditional soups to spaghetti Bolognese for you to try. It’s your choice – east, west, or both!
We stayed eastwards and had the following dishes. Please forgive the terrible photos. I was concentrating so hard on writing down what Stacey was saying I neglected my poor camera:
– A bowl of noodles with shrimp balls + Chinese soup (changes daily but the soups almost always have pork and lotus root) + HK-style lemon tea (sweetened black tea with lemon. There’s a spoon included to mash the lemon slices into the drink, and you can ask for it without sugar).
– Curried beef brisket with rice + turnip cakes + HK-style milk tea (black coffee with condensed milk, can be served hot or cold).
– Chili Bean Lo Mein with Pork with another lemon tea (Stacey strayed from the combo sheet because she could understand the rest of the menu!)
The lo mein was served with a side of broth, so if the noodles are sticking as you toss them with the pork, you can add small amounts of broth to loosen them up. I was sure glad we had Stacey with us, because otherwise I would have just said “the lo mein was served with a small bowl of soup. Neat.”
The noodles and shrimp balls were plain, basic fare, but I liked the curried brisket and especially the saucy, spicy lo mein.
The turnip cakes were great; Stacey pointed out they’re found all over China, but with significantly different preparations according to region. These turnip cakes were square and semi-firm, made with mashed turnip, rice flour, Chinese sausage, and preserved vegetables. The turnip cakes at Suhang, on the other hand (in the northern, Shanghaiese style), were much softer and in a sesame crust.
Stacey also told us about one very unique feature at Lido’s; if you spend over $18 in total, you receive one free dish to takeaway. If you spend over $42, you have your choice of 2 off-menu items. Each day they have signs (in Cantonese) listing the take-away options for that day, and I chose a strawberry coconut pudding. It was cool, sweet, and reminded me of panna cotta. I sort of got scolded by a server for opening it while still inside the restaurant, so take my advice and just leave it in your bag til you get home! Our total bill came to $43.62 for four people.
Prior to this job, I never would have known Lido existed, nor would I have had the guts to go in. But just like the first time I bungee-jumped, I’m now SO glad I did. Fear isn’t always a bad thing, so someday take the leap, and try Lido.